The Search Continues

So as it would turn out, digitizing media is really, really handy. For
one thing, it allows you to search for terms such as “Shakespeare”
across hundreds of archived items at once, with nearly instantaneous
results. This is particularly handy, for example, if you want to get
that broader picture I was talking about in my last post. Because the
Claremont Colleges Digital Library (CCDL) has archived many letters,
playbills, programs, photographs and even sheet music from the
Philbrick Collection and beyond, the term “Shakespeare” came up quite
frequently. It was through this simple search that I found out about
David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, and William Poel.

For one thing, these names did not appear very often in the Philbrick Collection, specifically in the corner of the massive collection in which I was digging. There are many subseries – to use the archivist’s term – within the broader picture. After looking in metadata (the data about the item, such as its name, medium, date, where it is shelved) about many Henry Irving and Ellen Terry items, I found other useful tags that led me to the Dr. Walter Lindley Scrapbooks, and the Autograph Letter series within the Philbrick. Dr. Walter Lindley, as it would turn out, was a resident of Los Angeles and physician at the turn of the 20th century who had a penchant for collection items about Shakespeare, as well as travel and California health. The entire collection is on view on CCDL if you are curious!

As it would turn out, Lindley has not only David Garrick’s will and testament, but plenty of newspaper clippings, programs and illustrations about Garrick’s role as a Shakespearean actor in the mid-18th century. It was particularly exciting to open up a box and find an enormous ribbon-bound collection of papers written in some 400 year old lawyer’s hand, transcribing the will and testament of David Garrick, who I was about to learn was the big name in reviving Shakespeare. But it was even more thrilling to keep going, and to find folders upon folders of newspaper clippings that described a “Shakespeare Jubilee” and poetry mourning the loss of a bard (Garrick) as great and wonderful as the Bard himself!

My hypothesis, it seemed, continued to be correct: the collections here focus on people, networks of people and correspondences. The items here documenting their accomplishments throughout their life. But since part of each person’s achievements in life included performing Shakespeare, then the history of Shakespearean performance was present, too! This meant that the exhibit would focus around these people, and their roles as performers that revived Shakespeare from century to century.

Asking the Right Questions

As promised, here I am, ready to talk about the process of creating an exhibit. With the exciting and very daunting task of taking overwhelming amounts of exciting material and finding about 100 pieces total to fit in 8 glass cases, the most important thing to do is to take the process one step at a time. This meant, for me, making a general timeline of my 4 months ahead of me, and what stage I should be at by each point. For example, I knew that the exhibit would be installed in early April, which meant that I should have all of my captions written in the week previous, and working backwards from there, that meant I should have all of my items chosen and organized by the third week in March. This left me with about 8 weeks of research. But where to begin with that?

My first step in any research project, whether exhibit or thesis, is to start with the broader picture. Starting research can often feel like diving into a pool, being thrown into unfamiliar waters with no sense of perspective until you come up for air and look around. While diving in can certainly be exciting, it often gets me off-track very quickly. With this project, I had the massive pool of the Philbrick Collection of Letters and Theatre to swim in. The collection accounts for a quarter of the first floor of the Special Collections Library at Honnold/Mudd, not including the materials in the Philbrick Art Collection, which has boxes upon boxes of costume designs, posters and other mixed media. While I was going through the boxes that were given to me to catalog – namely boxes full of materials on Victorian actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry – I began to get a sense of what kind of focus this collection had.

In general, I recognized that the Philbrick Collection centers around people, and networks of people particularly in the 19th and 20th century. Irving and Terry in particular were an epicenter of connections to many other famous British figures of the time, including Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula. Theatre really served as the center of entertainment and creativity, and was a physical place in which people could gather and meet, and eventually form friendships and partnerships. It was these networks of people, I came to realize, that were responsible for continuing to produce Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s name would appear amongst the playbills and programs for other works, and in articles about Victorian actors including Charles Kean, Terry and Irving. I knew that I could continue to look for materials about Terry and Irving’s roles in producing and performing Victorian Shakespeare, but the question remained for the rest of my research: who was responsible for producing and performing Shakespeare in the 18th and 20th centuries, and were these people present in the Philbrick Collection? Who were they, and what kind of influence did they have on British, and as it would turn out, American theatre?

Tune in soon to find out!

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

After all of those long hours of research and preparation, the day of the launch of the exhibit, “Shakespeare at 450: Keeping the Name Alive” arrived! And without a glitch! I’m very used to the day of performance being bubbling over with stress and anticipation – making sure everyone knows where to go, that the location and staff are on board, that I’ve done my part thoroughly, and of course, that the event itself is enjoyable. The event was to start at 7pm on April 14, so of course I arrived at 6pm, anticipating last-minute frenzy. Instead, I was met with the delightful sight of my exhibit, as I had installed it the week previous, seeming to beam and shine in its cases, Lisa, Carrie and Kate Crocker ready to introduce me, the student performers warming up for their sonnet recitations, and the Founder’s Room all arranged. Everything was in order!

The event was everything I could have hoped for and more. The energy was lively and joyous, the food labeled with Shakespearean puns (“O Oreo, Oreo, wherefore art thou Oreo?”), and me, the curator, exuberant. My family drove out from Los Angeles to be part of the audience, as well as close friends, but there was also an entire class, and members of the Claremont Shakespeare community who had heard about the exhibit and performance and wanted to come out. It’s always thrilling to see faces that I don’t recognize, because it shows the scope and breadth of the outreach of my project, as well as just how many people do indeed love Shakespeare.

Olivia Buntaine’s directed performance of Shakespearean sonnets was the icing on the birthday cake. Olivia, a junior at Scripps College, has aspirations of being a Shakespearean actor, and after having seen her in her directed production of “Twelfth Night” last semester, I knew that if I was going to have a performance element to the launch of my exhibit, that I wanted her to direct it. The performance, entitled, “Who Will Believe My Verse in Time To Come?”, after the eponymous sonnet, wove seven romantic Shakespearean sonnets together into one narrative, following the arc of love through infatuation, deep passion, fading connections, and letting go. The performance was a perfect union of passion and sharp, witty Shakespearean language, and as the actors followed one after the other, occasionally falling over each other to get their passionate thoughts out, the audience was clearly enraptured. When the performance ended, it was as though a spell had broken, and as people filed out into the lobby to view the exhibit, I felt as though the performance had achieved something very important for the exhibit: it had drawn everyone together to experience Shakespeare as he is meant to be – performed in front of an audience, and then remembered and celebrated as a community.

Starting at the End

These last few weeks have been particularly action-packed and exciting for me. As a Scripps senior, I’m getting down to the wire on my senior thesis, not to mention thinking about my future, and managing my extra-curricular activities. But in the whirl of editing papers and reading all of A Passage to India for class on time, I’ve been most eagerly anticipating and preparing for the premiere of my first ever archive exhibit this Monday, April 14 all about Shakespeare in honor of his 450th birthday.

To be perfectly honest, being a CCEPS archival fellow has been a dream come true. I’ve been an archival fellow before – twice before, in fact – but both projects were in digital humanities, and about the process of creating a virtual space that eases the archiving process and organizes old information in new, exciting ways (such as being able to search for the concept of illness in a text instead of just the word “influenza”). Going back to basics, as it were, by designing a physical exhibit with display cases and objects viewed side by side by side was something I’d never done before and had always wanted to do. And with Shakespeare as my case study?! Perfect.

Among my many interests, Shakespeare and English theatre is high on my list, and the volumes of materials relating to him are many, especially in Claremont’s Special Collections. The processes of digging through the archives, researching the materials I’ve found, finding a theme or narrative to use to have the exhibit tell a story, and narrowing down my topic, designing the exhibit, providing captions, organizing PR and publicity, and finally, installing the exhibit have each presented fun and challenging conundrums, and cool finds. Given that I’ve just completed the installation process, I’ll start at the very end, and talk about what that has been like. Each week’s new post will be a reflection on each step of this process.

Installing an exhibit is possibly the dirtiest and most chaotic part of the process. This is where trial and error has come most into play; seeing how the items fit together in their cases, what works visually and what does not, which cases might need more items after all, and remembering that bibliographic and contextual captions do indeed take up space. It has required me to dust off my aesthetic side and think about how the way things are organized and arranged influence what information viewers will take away from the exhibit. The items need to be visible, obviously, and lead the eye from one point to another, all the while presenting an underlying idea or concept.

I actually revised an entire case because of this. The case now entitled “Jubilees” was originally called “Places of Performance”, and would have been filled with photographs and illustrations of all of the theatres in the United States and England that I’ve compiled, in order to provide a comparison and contrast across the pond. However, that left items for celebrating Shakespeare completely homeless. And more importantly, these places of performance would be in the case next to the door, making it the first case people would notice. I needed something that was not only more eye-catching, but that provided the thesis of the exhibit while tempting the viewer to look further. Given that this exhibit is celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, as well as the celebrations in his honor throughout the centuries, jubilees was a much more appropriate theme. The places of performance went to other cases, and sure enough, the lovely illustration of the Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769 has already made passersby stop to look at what’s new in the cases.

I’m thrilled to host the launch for this exhibit this upcoming Monday, and look forward to receiving feedback from people once the exhibit goes live. I’ll be wearing yellow stockings for the occasion!